Privatizing the Botanical Gardens

Non-resident fees, exclusive events, and the transfer to a private group compromise what was a natural gathering spot

Fees at the Botanical Gardens have been getting more attention than the flowers.

The Board of Supervisors last week voted to continue the collection of "non-resident fees" at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park for a minimum 10-year period. Then it approved a companion measure to allow construction of a new, privately run nursery that will be the home of corporate parties and members-only activities, giving a private group unusual control over a public space.

The proposed plan will replace the existing nursery with a new Center For Sustainable Growth, funded as a "gift-in place" from the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, a nonprofit that has supported the gardens since 1955, when it was known as Strybing Arboretum.

"This vote means we are basically privatizing 55 acres of Golden Gate Park and handing it over to a nonprofit with no public accountability," Harry Pariser, a longtime resident of the Inner Sunset, activist, and author told the Bay Guardian. "Essentially we're allowing the government to make us show an ID to come onto public land. It's also going to be a space where there's going to be a lot more commercial activity. I think inevitably there is going to be fees for everyone."

The new agreement consists of demolishing an existing 4,600 square foot greenhouse, which will be replaced by a new 9,800 square foot nursery. A real estate evaluation report on the nursery project performed by Clifford Advisory, a limited liability corporation, compares the project to allegedly positive public-private development efforts such as the Hunter's Point Shipyard project.

The lease agreement between the Botanical Garden Society and the City of San Francisco allows the society to use the premises for "special events," designate members-only hours for the facility, and waive the non-resident fee for those events. According to the lease, the city shall avoid interfering with the Society's "quiet use and enjoyment of the premises," namely by allowing them to throw private parties.

"The Botanical Gardens is an incredible asset to the city, it's a great place for families and kids, and now they're no longer treating it as a public asset," Sup. John Avalos, who recently voted against the non-resident fees and the lease agreement, told the Guardian. "They're making it more exclusive."



The SFBGS has a history of campaigning for private exclusivity on public land as well as generating new revenue sources. In 2010, Avalos pushed a plan to replace the revenue brought in by non-resident fees with $250,000 pulled from the city's real estate transfer tax.

SFBGS, backed by London Breed before she was elected the supervisor of District 5, which includes the Botanical Gardens, opposed Avalos' effort and helped shoot down the proposed plans, continuing the fee collections.

A large part of the board's approval is derived from the lobbying efforts of Sam Lauter, a lobbyist hired by SFBGS who has continually pushed for permanent fees and the new conservatory. Lauter also helped support and fund Breed's supervisorial campaign last year.

While the lease and management agreement purports that the SFBGS's management shall be subject to the city's definition of the gardens as a public space, it offers an exception in cases of SFBGS-sponsored special events, circumventing its status as a public space. The lease also allows the Society to use other buildings on the premises, such as the County Fair Building, for special events, free of charge.

Although the SFBGS is essentially taking over operation of the gardens, the city will continue to pay for utilities and offer a "rent credit" that requires the Society to pay just $100 in rent annually. Additionally, SFBGS will be reimbursed for non-resident fee collection expenses.


support an SF assets. And if the politics of this city do not support such a notion, then why is our hotel tax so high?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 4:45 am

A "nonresident" is anyone who does not have an ID but lives here; our lovers, relatives, friends or visitors who come with us....

Why must we show an ID to enter?

Why do members (and even reciprocal garden members) enter for free? Is this not racist, as low income people do not have $75 to pay for a membership?

Why is the park patrol called when locals fail to show an ID and enter? (This happens all the time).

Why is a manufactured contribution of $250,000 enough to limit use for locals when $2 million is spent on gardeners?

Why are members admitted free of charge on Wednesday evenings?

All "nonresidents" should pay and the revenues should NOT be collected by a nonprofit with dubious morality! :(

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 7:44 am

And why is it "racist" to charge a fee. Do non-whites have no money?

Stuff costs money. Deal.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:35 am

Having an ID doesn't seem like the huge issue you say it is.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

Why do members enter for free? The same reason that Academy members enter for free at the Academy, deYoung members enter for free at the you see a pattern here? Membership is not a new thing at any institution and yes, for supporting an institution financially they let you in free of charge.

I'm wondering why no one is making the same kind of stink about those other GG Park institutions. Did anyone notice that it costs $34.95 for an adult to visti the Academy? And a $99 individual membership that offers - oh my stars! - special hours for members?!

And let's not forget the arboretum is the only staffed institution within Golden Gate Park that let's residents in for free. Residents wishing to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, deYoung, and Academy always have to pay, period.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

Same with any museum, art museum, aquarium etc.

Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 6:43 am

Only a couple of things are missing:

The new building, opposed by the Sierra Club, will be walled in and cover 2.4 acres.

Apparently, some of the Bond money from the 2012 ballot initiative will be used to fund this building that will benefit the elites partying there.

Nonresidents from Marin and elsewhere are offered free admission if they can show that they are members of any botanical garden with reciprocal agreements. Incredibly, members of the SFBGS are also admitted free of charge, while locals who forgot their ID, bring their out-of-town lover or their undocumented friend or roommate must pay $7 for them.

Gates behind the Hall of Flowers are open for members and volunteers to come in, yet they close at 3. Locals could previously come in this way until 7 PM.

An immense amount of land has been squatted by the Society for decades now. This is not about building a new 'nursery.' It is about creating a building that will host events and parties and have a fence around it.

This is a theft by the wealthy, pure and simple....

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 7:51 am

that residents can continue to enjoy free access.

Are you arguing that SF's hotel tax is racist and unfair? Why not?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:37 am

You must be really wealthy because that is what many peiople in SF work an hour for!

The hotel tax is a regressive tax, and much of it is spent on the Convention and Visiitors Bureau (which now has a new name), the unaffordable opera, symphony and museums.

Keeping public assets in the park free for all would be a better use. If we residents bring three friends we have to fork over $24! Outrageous!


Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 9:06 am

It's tourists who have to pay and if they spent hundreds on airfares and hotels, then $7 will not kill them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 9:41 am

Tourists are:

• Locals who just moved here

• Friends, relatives and others coming with locals

• Visitors from Oakland and the East Bay, etc.

• Locals without ID (quite a few!)

Curiously, tourists are not:

• Visitors from outside SF who have joined the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

• Visitors from outside SF who belong to a "reciprocal garden."

And this is NOT discriminatory privatization?

Think about it!

Posted by guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

There aren't very many legal residents in the USA, let alone in SF, without ID - in fact, I'll bet most illegals have one as well. For one thing, it is harder (although not impossible) to get freebies from the City, State and Federal Govts without one.

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

Now there's a blast from the past. Even mainstream media has stopped using that term. The only place you hear that anymore is right wing hate radio.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 7:47 am

used easily more than 90% of the time in popular discourse.

The artificial and clumsy term "undocumented alien" is only used by those intimidated by political correctness (which may well be everyone you know).

Seriously, Greg, get out there and see how the real world works. Leave your bubble.

Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 8:00 am

from anon, the number one reason that the SFBG are thankfully shutting down the comment pages.

He might use "illegals" 90% of the time. He definitely likes to boast about hyper exploiting their labor because of their undocumented status.

Carry on, Greg.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 8:49 am

Is that like "Guest" being just one person?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 9:05 am

The fee required to host a small memorial for a group of 10 people was $ 1,000 not $ 10,000 . I also suggested that the money spent on the new building should be used to build gardening programs in the public school system. Thanks

Posted by Nancy McNally on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 8:21 am

We've fixed that, sorry about the error.

Posted by steven on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 9:54 am
Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 9:03 am

the parks and rec dept people are an odd lot of scongrels that want to take the wildness out of the one wild area in the city-well Mclaren Park too is pretty wild and they want to target it next. This is the same Park and Rec that are ripping up our natural sod fields and replace them with artificial turff. These people are VERY misguided and have their heads screwed on backwards..

Posted by lantz green on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 11:50 am

150 years ago it was sand dunes, so what you see now us the result of funds being raised - the same funds some now want to deny.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

those sand dunes 150 years ago were wild. the parts the parks and rec dont mess with are wild too. manufactured? I dont think so, this is a wild nature area. some of the trees may have been planted but for many years it has been an area left to grow in nature without help needed from humans. it does not need funds any more than any nature needs funds. does a seed that falls from an pine tree and grows into a tall tree need any funds??? think!

Posted by lantz green on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

Turn off the water, and fire the gardeners. See how long 90% of that area remains the way you would expect it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 10:14 am

The fees lose money for the City and keep people away....

Posted by guest on Jul. 25, 2013 @ 8:45 am

But the chance are they would never visit anyway as hotels here are so expensive, not lease because of the hotel tax - a very similar fee. Irony, huh?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 25, 2013 @ 9:15 am
Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 6:41 am

Roads are a public good. I've always preferred paying for them with taxes rather than user fees. User fees are a form of regressive taxation.

They're also inefficient. Collecting taxes avoids the whole infrastructure of toll collection, which costs money.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 7:43 am

You think the successful should pay more so that you get a free pass?

Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 7:58 am

I just found this e-mail showing how the fees mentioned in this article racially target individuals.

I am absolutely shocked!

Posted by Racial Equality Fighter on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

This video doesn't show what you think it shows. Not even a little.

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Posted by Bissoday on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

We are talking about parks and nature; it has nothing to do with hotel tax. We are talking about a fee not tax they are too different things here. Why doesn't someone suggests to ask visitor to pay more sales tax because they don't pay the IRS??? I feel that there's a steady stream of comment repeating the same theme about screwing the tourist. That's a rather selfish and unkind thing to say. I think the citizens of SF is better then that. As far as the budget goes, I feel that when Mayor Lee came to office, the Parks and Rec really is going toward the wrong direction. Cutting trees down and doing a lot of construction. I can see a lot of contracts awarding to some lucrative wallet and friends of the friends of people who have connections. I have been resident here for 30 yrs and I often fogotten my ID and was not allow in so there goes the theory about screwing the tourist.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 28, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

But are you suggesting that National and State Parks also should not charge a fee?

They currently do. Why would a city park be any different?

Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 6:40 am

Parks are a public good. National parks should be free too.

But yes, it's always a good idea to carry your ID on you. You never know when a cop might stop you and ask for your papers in the Land of the Free.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 7:38 am

"Free" meaning not that it costs nothing to run but rather somebody else paying for it and subsidizing you.

Posted by anon on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 7:57 am

identification unless they arrest or detain you. There is still no national ID card nor requirement to carry ID. Yet. Of course, the state has access to all of our telephone and online activities. We know this because of heroic whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, who will receive his life sentence later today.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 8:53 am

have ID then a simple citation or infraction will instead involve a long, unpleasant stay at Central Booking.

A lack of ID also makes you look a lot more suspicious, and may lead to searches, seizures, detentions and other nasties.

If you have nothing to hide, you carry ID.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 9:07 am

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has been harrassing more than one local resident, especially if they decline to show an ID!

This government has a lot to answer for! :(

Posted by guest on Jul. 31, 2013 @ 8:11 am

Or at least simply refuse to admit them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 31, 2013 @ 8:21 am

Lots of negative in this article, and lots of references to what was happening in 2010, for some reason. Why didn't the writer report on what has happened since the non-resident fee went into affect: expanded child and family programming, extended library hours (this article says the library WAS located in the arboretum, but it never ceased operation) improved signs, walkways, and restrooms, less homeless encampments, less vandalism, etc.

It would have been nice to read a balanced article that at least took into consideration how many residents still love and use the arboretum.

And I still see full lawns on sunny days, just fewer sunny days lately - it is summer afterall. But the goose crap does suck.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

This person appears to be an employee of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society1

The "programs" offered are subsidized by the same taxpapers who subsidize the fees.

Disgusting corporation Bechtel paid $45,000 towards the library operation.

The roads and signs are also paid for by taxpayers.

The lawns are always empty, even on Summer days.

Most residents have stopped going, especiially now that we need to show an ID and pay for guests, while members and docents enter for free via the wide-open gates benind the Hall of Flowers.

There have never been homeless encamplents, and there has never been a vandalism problem — save for the expensive vandalism perpetrated by the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society with the intent of turning this into a ticky tacky tourist facility.

Posted by guest on Jul. 31, 2013 @ 8:09 am

And I visit the Gardens a lot still. If it is less crowded, then I haven't noticed that. But less people makes them more enjoyable anyway, and probably saves us money too.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 31, 2013 @ 8:20 am

Sorry, everyone, that's it for now. Come to our forum tonight (Wed/31) or send a letter to if you want to comment further this week.

Posted by steven on Jul. 31, 2013 @ 8:22 am

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